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"Word" and "Beginning" in John 1

The first chapter of John is considered one of the primary proof texts of the commonly-accepted doctrine of the Preexistence of Christ -- i.e., that Christ had a personal, individual, and sentient existence before his conception and birth; indeed, that he was coexistent with the Father as a second person of the "trinity".

Christadelphians often seek to refute this teaching, in John 1 at least, by asserting that the "Word" was not Christ literally, but the "Idea" or "Logos" of Christ, existing in the mind of the Father long before his conception and birth of the Son, and that this Idea found expression in Jesus when he was born (v 14?), as the embodiment of the Purpose of Almighty God.

This general idea -- that the "Word" of God from the beginning (the Law and the prophets of the OT) described and pointed toward the Messiah who was yet to come -- is certainly correct, but... is that what this passage is about?

The usual Christadelphian approach to John 1 is to assume that (1) "beginning" refers to Genesis 1, or earlier, and that (2) "Word" therefore cannot refer literally to Christ, at least at that "beginning".

The following is a slightly different approach, which (1) has no problem with the "Word" being a title of Christ, but (2) interprets "beginning" in an entirely different way:


Joh 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (NIV).

The word for "beginning" is the Greek "archee"; signifying "first in order", from the root "arch, archon" = a ruler. "The beginning" is a characteristic phrase of John, referring to the beginning of the NEW CREATION in Christ: consider carefully Joh 15:27; 16:4; 8:25; 6:64; 1Jo 1:1; 2:7,13,14,24; 2Jo 1:6. [Notice in some of these passages that the KJV translation shows certain words italicized, and that omitting these words actually enhances the sense of the passages.]

The "beginning" of the Gospel of John is obviously patterned after the "beginning" of Genesis -- hence there is much similarity of language, and connection of ideas. But it is the beginning of a new, or spiritual "creation" in Christ. As there was a Sun, created and ordained in the heavens by God, in the Genesis-beginning when He decreed, "Let there be light", so likewise... "In the (new, spiritual) beginning" God testified of Christ: "Let there be light" (cp Gen 1:3 with 2Co 4:6; Mat 4:17; Mar 1:1; Luk 1:1,2; Act 10:37), and this time a new spiritual Light came into the world. And so God made and ordained His Son Jesus Christ the "beginning" and the first cause of His new spiritual creation (Rev 3:14).

It is instructive and significant that each gospel begins with a "beginning": cp Mat 1:1 (genesis); Mar 1:1 (archee); Luk 1:3 (anothen); and that the four gospel accounts are placed at the head of the New Testament. Here, in the coming of His Son, God has begun the work of His new, spiritual, "creation" -- the corner piece, the foundation stone of which is His Son.

As a separate point, it may be noted how often the Greek "ktisis" (creation) -- when used in the NT -- signifies, not the material, physical creation of Genesis, but the new, spiritual creation, in Christ, of regenerated and forgiven men and women who bear his name.

Jesus was the "Word of God"

Jesus was a man (Act 2:22; 1Ti 2:5; Rom 8:3; Heb 2:14) who spoke God's words (Joh 8:28; 7:16). Thus, one of his names is "the word of God" (1Jo 1:1; Rev 19:13; 1:2 -- there are only three other instances of John's use of the phrase "word of God", all referring to Christ personally). In Greek philosophy, "logos" means an impersonal, abstract wisdom; but in Hebrew thought, "logos" refers to God Himself. Yahweh is the source of all wisdom! Here in John 1 "logos" occurs with the definite article ("ho") which serves to strengthen its meaning. Hence, 'THE Word' can also be seen to be THE "Divine Expression". Christ was exactly this. It was in Christ that God fully revealed Himself to mankind. It was through Christ's life and mission that God expressed and illustrated His new covenant, showing us the better way -- which is the power of salvation for those who believe.

Jesus as the "Word" was "with" God. The Greek "pros" signifies facing toward or moving toward.

"The Word was God"

As John used the definite article ("ho") to strengthen the meaning of "logos", so here there is no definite article: i.e., "THE word" was not THE God personally, but rather "of God", or "godly", or A (manifestation of) God. (In v 14 John writes, "We beheld his glory", i.e., the glory of the One who came from God, and was thus "divine".) This phrase is translated, "The word was DIVINE" (Moffatt). John is affirming Christ's divinity, not his deity. Christ was the Son of God, the 'Divine Expression' from heaven which dwelt among us, "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb 1:3).


Joh 1:2: "He was with God in the beginning."

This verse may be understood most literally if we define and circumscribe "beginning" to mean to the beginning of the "New Creation" in Christ. Truly Christ was with the Father in all the work of the New, spiritual, Creation in Himself; he was the prototype and the catalyst; such a Creation could not be without him!


Joh 1:3: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."

There is plainly an intended, and extended, parallel between the material creation of Gen 1 and the spiritual creation of new men and women in Christ: Col 1:15-18; 3:10; 2Co 5:17; 4:6; 1Pe 1:23; 1Co 8:6. "All things" refer to men and women (Joh 5:17,20,21; 3:35; 13:3; 16:14,15; 17:10; Col 1:16; Eph 3:9). Cp 1Co 8:6: "To us there is but one God the Father, of whom are ALL THINGS (even we unto him), and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are ALL THINGS (even we through him)."

"Without him nothing was made"

There should be a period (full stop) here. "Without me you can do nothing" (Joh 15:5). Then there is required a slight rearrangement, repunctuation, and retranslation of the text, which puts together the last portion of our v 3 with the first bit of v 4, and yields:

"That which has been made (v 3b) was life in him (v 4a)."
Should this relative clause ['that (or what) has been made'] go with v 3 or with v 4? The earliest NT manuscripts had no punctuation. Many of the later manuscripts -- which do have punctuation marks -- place the equivalent of a period before this phrase, thus putting it with v 4.

It has even been suggested that the editors of some later manuscripts introduced their own unusual punctuation to place this phrase (wrongly) at the end of v 3 (as it appears in most modern translations); and that this was done in a specific attempt to bolster the erroneous doctrine of the "Trinity" during the so-called "Arian controversy" of the 4th century -- in other words, to suggest that Jesus Christ himself was the Creator (or was with the Creator) in Genesis.

So the whole of these verses should probably read:

"Through him (ie, Christ himself) all things were made. Without him (Christ) nothing was made. What has been made was 'life in him', and that life was the light of men."

Read this way, it may be seen that John's focus is unequivocally on the spiritual creation ('life in HIM) and not the earlier, physical, creation of Genesis.


Joh 1:4: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men."

"What was made was life in him" (RV footnote).
"That life was the light of men" proves that this is spiritual life, which is produced by the light of God's word -- not natural life! And thereby are set the parameters of "beginning" and "creation" in this passage: the "beginning" of God's revelation of His Son to the world, and the new, spiritual "creation" of believers in him.


Joh 1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood {or overcome] it."

Briefly this states a parable of the Gospel: the epic battle between light and darkness: Jesus = the light, and the Pharisees, etc = the darkness. Cp 2Co 4:3,6.

"Understood" is the Greek "katalambano", which may be "comprehended" (Act 4:13; 10:34) or "overcome" (RV mg). God's word will not return to Him void (Isa 55:7; 1Th 5:4). Both meanings are relevant: the enemies of Christ did not "understand" him, nor could they "overcome" or defeat him!


Joh 1:9: "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world."

Notice: it is the Light [not every man] which was coming into the world (in contrast to the KJV translation): cp Joh 12:46; 16:28.


Joh 1:10: "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him."

This verse is difficult too, until we recognize that Christ "made" the world in this sense: that his sacrifice was efficacious backward into the past, even for earlier believers in Old Testament times (Rom 3:25; Heb 9:15). Cp vv 3/4: "What was made was life in him"... even for Adam and Abraham. (In this sense, the new or spiritual "creation" did have a sort of beginning -- at least prophetically and typically -- in the history of God's covenant peoples in the Old Testament.)

Or, "the world was enlightened through him" (Diag), which is essentially the same thing: spiritual "enlightenment" leads, in faith, to a new and spiritual creation!


Joh 1:11: "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him."

"He came to his own ('idia': neuter plural): i.e., his own land or country; but his own ('idioi': masculine plural): i.e., his own people... did not receive him" (John Thomas, Eureka 1:29).


Joh 1:12: "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..."

Vv 12,13 -- looking back to vv 1-4 -- describe more literally the "creative process" at the "beginning". These vv (12,13) demonstrate quite clearly that what is being discussed here is a spiritual "creation"! Those who believe in Christ's Name are re-created as "children of God".


Joh 1:14: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

"The Word became flesh" is here a straightforward reference to Christ's nature, not merely his birth (cp 1Jo 4:2). God manifested Himself in the flesh of humanity (1Ti 3:16), not in stone (Exo 34:6). Jesus was of David's seed (Rom 1:3); under a curse (Gal 3:13); being born of a woman, under the law (Gal 4:4); and made "sin" (2Co 5:21). He was of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3); in the likeness of men, of no reputation (Phi 2:7); and like his brethren (Heb 2:17).

The conception of Jesus in the virgin womb is likened to the original "Creation" of Genesis; in fact, it is the beginning of the new, spiritual "creation": cp Gen 1:2 (the Spirit of God hovering over the waters) like a mother bird brooding over her young: Deu 32:11; Exo 19:4). The words portray the energy-giving presence of God -- wrapping, protecting, and caressing the chaos of the unfinished earth as He prepared to complete His creation. And THIS SAME ENERGY IN CREATIVE PROCESS is described in Luk 1:35 ("the Holy Spirit will... overshadow you..."): The language of Gabriel calls to mind that of Genesis (cp Gen 1:2, LXX); the Spirit of God "overshadowing", or "moving upon" the face of the waters to bring forth life, as a mother hen brooding over her eggs and then her chicks. This is a direct parallel to the natural creation; this is the beginning of the spiritual, or new, creation. It is a picture of vast creative power, yet nonetheless tenderness and love.

"Made his dwelling" is "tabernacled" (RV mg): Exo 25:8,9. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, a sanctuary (Isa 8:14; Exo 33:9; 40:35). The child, and the man, Jesus was set up on earth as the perfect tabernacle or temple, in which the glory of the Father dwelt: Joh 2:19-21; Mat 12:6.


Joh 1:15: "John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, 'This was he of whom I said, "He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me." ' "

He has "surpassed" me, John said; he stands in front of me, because he was "before me": "Protos" means: first, in sense of rank. It signifies "first" or "chief": Mar 6:21; Act 13:50; 17:4; 28:7,17. There are numerous cases of younger men surpassing their older brothers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, etc. Jesus is but one more, and the greatest, of younger men who surpass their elders.


Joh 1:17: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

It may be said that the giving of the Law, by which Israel was constituted the people and nation of God, was a continuance of God's original creation -- or even the first, rudimentary, steps of His spiritual creation: men and women were being reconstituted or reborn as His own special family. So it is reasonable that the first, elementary, part of the Spiritual Creation would be seen by John as yet another pattern pointing forward to the fullness of the Spiritual Creation as it would be realized in the Son of God. What Yahweh began in Moses He finished -- or rather, will finish -- in Christ.


Joh 1:18: "No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten Son, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."

The only begotten Son is 'in the bosom of the Father', an idiom for closeness or nearness: cp Joh 13:23. (Is this phrase a commentary of John, after the facts of the history, referring to Christ who was then in heaven?)

The Son has declared, or interpreted, the Father. In this final verse of the prologue is the climactic and ultimate statement of the career of the Logos, "the Word of God made flesh", Jesus of Nazareth. His whole life, all his teachings, and at last and especially his death and resurrection and ascension to heaven, all "expound" or "interpret" his heavenly Father.


Thus it is possible to read all of John's Prologue as a statement about Christ, the Logos or "Word" of God in human form and expression, and the work of a new, spiritual Creation which God is carrying on through him. Indeed, this is a "Creation" which is far from finished -- but one at which the Father, and the Son, continue to work to this very day. It will not be finished until every last redeemed one has been gathered in the great multitude standing before the throne of God. Indeed, so far as we know, it may not be finished even then!
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